Turn A Blackhat/Purchased Email List, Into A Healthy Whitehat List

This is actually one of the funnest marketing projects I have done in the past, although it definitely falls under some of my more blackhat work. Let’s say you have a big blackhat email list, and you want to turn it into a healthy email list, how exactly would you do this, and why?

First, the most common methods of acquiring a blackhat list include…

  • Buying the email data from big data providers.
  • Taking someone else’s list either by paying for it (or “other” methods).
  • Scraping SQL databases for peoples emails, very common with big government databases.
  • Email lists that used to be healthy that haven’t been contacted for a number of years.

There’s a number of different ways one might acquire a blackhat list. Call it a purchased email list, a dead email list, a scraped email list, whatever. If you’re going to be bulk mailing people who didn’t recently subscribe to your content, most Email Service Providers (ESPs) are going to consider that some sort of blackhat email list.

Now before we begin, it’s important to understand the main problems we run into with a blackhat email list.

  1. They can contain spam traps, email addresses designed to trap spammers like us.
  2. The bounce rates are usually very high, 15-20%+ which can ban us from the ESP’s.
  3. The report spam rate is often extremely high, much greater than the .1% acceptable threshold.
  4. Engagement is very low, these people didn’t ask for us to contact them after all.

Now there are a number of ESPs that don’t care about these issues and will let you spam a list. The problem with this is that your deliverability rating is going to suck. Even though you find some sketchy ESP in India that doesn’t care you’re a blackhat marketer, the deliverability of that service is going to suck because they don’t maintain healthy senders.

What good is a list if they can’t even get your emails?

You want to be able to send your list on a service like Constant Contact or SendInBlue. This is how you do that.

Step One: Cleaning Your List

A blackhat list likely contains a huge amount of dead emails, invalid emails, spam traps, and an assortment of emails you don’t want to be trying to message. The first step to fixing your deliverability, spam reports, bounce rates, and engagement, is by cleaning your list with a scrubbing service.

My favorite is ZeroBounce.net.

Run your list through ZeroBounce, and it will split your list into segments.

  • Valid = Healthy emails with strong deliverability
  • Catch-All = “Basically can’t tell, the email domain catchs all emails sent to it”
  • Do Not Mail = People registered to not receive spam
  • Report Abuse = Emails that have a high report abuse rating
  • Spamtraps = Emails designed to catch spammers
  • Unknown = Can’t tell what it is

After you run your list through, you only want to keep the valid, and the catch-all segments. Basically everything else is going to get you banned by your ESP. The valid segment is going to preform mostly okay, the catch-all segment is going to have a super high bounce rate and will get you banned if sent alone. Both will have a higher than normal abuse report but it will be manageable if properly handled.

Step Two: Separating Your List Into Whitehat and Blackhat Segments.

Now that you have a clean list, it’s time to start building your whitehat segment.

Go sign up for an ESP like Constant Contact or SendInBlue. Whatever you do don’t sign up for Mailchimp, their report abuse threshold is .01% instead of .1% which makes it extremely hard to scrub a list on this platform. You need to pick an ESP thats policy is to allow at least a .1% report abuse.

For the sake of this post I am going to assume we are using Constant Contact and their policy guidelines. Here are the rules we need to live by.

  1. Our report abuse needs to be under .1%.
  2. Our bounce rate needs to be under 15% (ideally under 5%).
  3. Do not upload more than 4,999 emails within a 24 hour period to your list.
  4. And when it comes time for a manual account review, you must have a valid excuse for where your emails came from. My favorite “It’s an old list from about a year ago, and they all are subscribers who opt’ed in on my website. We’re just reviving the list.”

Upload 1,000 emails from your valid segment into a list (your whitehat segment). Now it’s time for your first email.

Step Two: Your First Email.

This is what’s going to happen. You are going to send out a small blast to 1,000 subscribers who came from your valid segment. 10-15% of them are going to bounce. You might have one or two report abuse, your unsubscribe rate is probably going to be 2-5%.

It’s going to be okay, even though your bounce, report abuse, and unsubscribes are very high, it’s not going to trigger any major red flags because your “list” is so small.

After your first email is sent, clean out the dead weight. Remove all the bounces. The report abuses, and unsubscribes will be removed automatically.

Ask yourself, what are you left with?

Clean healthy subscribers. The people who didn’t report you. The people who didn’t bounce. The people who didn’t unsubscribe. And most importantly, you haven’t been banned by your ESP. Yet.

You now have a (small) healthy whitehat list.

Step Two: Sending Your Second Email.

Now here comes the fun part. After 3-7 days, take another 1,000 people from your “valid” segment, and upload them into your whitehat list. It will now be a mix of “healthy” emails, and “unhealthy” emails.

Now send your second email.

The performance is going to be better than the first time. Your numbers will still be high, but your report abuse, bounce rate, and unsubscribers are going to be better.

After you have sent your second email remove the bounces once again. Again the reports & unsubscribes will be removed automatically. Again, you will be left with the healthy subscribers.

Continue to add in people from your valid list in 1,000-2,000 segments, send another email, clean out the bounces. Soon you will have a list of ~10,000+ healthy emails from your valid segment.

You have now created a laundry machine. You dump in your bad emails and mix them in with your good ones, and the ESP is none the wiser that your list is in fact, a blackhat list.

Step Three: Shoveling In The REAL Shit.

Now here comes the really fun part. You have built a list of ~5,000-10,000+ healthy subscribes from your “valid” segment, but a big bulk of your original blackhat list is most likely going to be “catch-all” which is going to have horrible numbers by itself because you can’t really verify the emails.

Once your healthy list is sufficiently large enough… It’s time to dump in your worse data.

Your list is now so big that you can put in a smaller segment that wouldn’t ever in a million years send without getting you banned.

Never, ever, put in more than 4,999 of a catch-all or shit email list into your healthy list. With most ESP’s this will automatically trigger a manual review and they will batch send your new list. This means they will send out your email in small segments, including “only” to your catch-all/shitty segment. This will get you banned.

Continue sending out emails, clearing out the bounces, until you have shoved your entire list through this “laundry machine” that you have created, and what you will be left with is a clean healthy whitehat list of subscribers on a great ESP with deliverability that’s 10x higher than you can get from a blackhat ESP provider.

Step Four: Fostering Engagement

The final “step” is one that you should be doing all along… But it’s important to understand how to communicate to your audience in order to build engagement from people who didn’t ask to talk to you.

Run your email campaign like you would a social media channel.

This means don’t just spam them with “buy buy buy”. Use your list as a chance to have a conversation with people. Tell them a story. Tell them a different story. For the first 5-10 emails they get, don’t even try to sell them just talk to them.

Keep your emails very light on images, and very heavy on copy.

Obviously do all of the good traditional stuff like AB test your headlines for engagement, but focus on teaching them about “you”. If I am targeting insurance agent’s to join my agency I don’t say “Join My Agency” with a couple of sentences, some nice pictures, and a call to action button. I send them a personal 500+ word email about how I grew one of my agents from $0 – $2M in premium.

If they read through that 500 word email, they will learn more about me and my company than 30 emails with just a couple call to actions.

Just like if you read through this entire ridiculously long article, you will have more trust in me than any silly display ad can ever create.